|HUMAN RIGHTS IN ARMENIA
HCA ANNUAL REPORT 2006
The year 2006 was not distinguished specifically by its activism in domestic policy. It is worth mentioning especially that the Orinats Yerkir/Rule of Law Country party left the ruling coalition and announced to become an opposition party. Armenian well-known wealthy businessman of Gagik Tsarukyan founded Bargavach Hayastan/Prosperous Armenia party, which, within a short period of time, having enjoyed the patronage of authorities and by using huge funding, managed to ensure that the party ranks swelled to reach, in estimation, about 370,000.
Disruptive assassinations were committed in 2006. As it was mentioned Haykakan Zhamanak/Armenian Time daily (Hit parade: ‘Assassination – 2006,’ September 8, 2006), in terms of disruptive assassinations, cases registered in 2006 (both in terms of type and quantity of committed assassinations) were record-breaking as compared with the preceding 5-6 years. Dozens of assassinations have been committed, primarily in broad daylight (police employee, collector, the head of operative and intelligence department of the state tax service, village governors and other officials, businessmen, prominent figures in organized crime and ordinary passers-by) witnessed by many people.. Those crimes have not for the most part been solved yet and the public has not received answers about those cases.
On December 9, unknown individuals killed Roland Mkrtchyan, a Head of Nalbandyan village in Armavir Region, member of Bargavach Hayastan party, next to his house. Four months before the assassination, during the village hesdr's elections he defeated the member of ruling Hanrapetakan (Republican) Party.
There have been cases of beating, intimidation and criminal prosecution. On October 10, Suren Abrahamyan, former Yerevan Mayor, former Minister of Interior, and currently a member of Political Council of the opposition party Hanrapetutyun (the Republic), was beaten. The opposition linked the beating of Abrahamyan to the latter’s criticism of Andranik Margaryan, the RoA Prime Minister, which Abrahamyan leveled the day before the incident.
On December 9, National Security employees arrested Zhirayr Sefilyan, the Coordinator of the Protection of Liberated Territories civic initiative, and Vardan Malkhassian, member of the Motherland and Dignity political party. Criminal proceedings were launched against them based on Article 301 of the RoA Criminal Code (‘A public appeal for changing the constitutional order of the RoA through violence’).
On March 27, 2006 the Republic of Armenia was included in the United States-funded Millennium Challenge Account and on November 14, 2006 in the European Union’s European Neighborhood Project. The aforementioned projects specify a comprehensive framework of actions to be carried out by aimed at strengthening democratic institutions and rule of law, particularly reforms in judicial system, combating corruption, promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms according to the international obligations (ENP, MCA, CoE, OSCE, UN) assumed by Armenia. In addition to those priorities, special attention is paid to mass media and the public body regulating their operation, independence of courts and Council of Justice, strengthening of local governments, freedom of organizing rallies as well as ensuring diversity and pluralism of opinions and protection of property rights.
The further implementation of the Millennium Challenge Account, which will provide USD 235 million to Armenia, depends not only on the reforms by Armenia in social and economic sphere but also on meeting Armenia’s obligations regarding preparation and conduction of the 2007 parliamentary elections in compliance with international standards.
Good Governance (Corruption)
According to Transparency International (TI) 2006 Corruption Perception Index (CPI)1, among 163 examined countries Armenia is placed in the group of countries with a score below 3.0 (on a “10-0” scale, where “10” is the cleanest country and “0” – the most corrupt one), which implies that corruption here is perceived as rampant. No progress has been made during the last three years, with the Armenia’s CPI equal to 3.1, 2.9 and 2.9 in 2004, 2005 and 2006, respectively.
As indicated in Nations in Transit report published by Freedom House in 20062, corruption at all levels of government has not changed in Armenia. Since 1999 the country’s index of corruption of 5.75 has remained unchanged (on a “1-7” scale, where “7” means absolutely corrupt and “1” – absolutely “clean”). The 2006 Gallup Corruption Index ranked Armenia as 69out of 101 calculated countries, with a score of 82 (where the lowest score indicates that the population is least likely and the highest score - most likely - to perceive corruption as widespread)th .
The recent World Bank report Anticorruption in Transition 3: Who Is Succeeding…and Why? underlined that in spite of the development of the Anti-Corruption Strategy and its Action Plan in 2003 and creation of the high-level Anti-Corruption Council in 2004, the situation in Armenia, along many dimensions of corruption, was significantly worse in 2005 compared with 20023.
Armenia’s first GRECO Evaluation Report was adopted in March, 2006. It combined the first and second round assessments on the efficiency of the implementation of the anti-corruption measures carried out by the Armenian Government. The report indicated that corruption in Armenia “…is a major problem that affects many sectors of the public service”4 and provided 24 recommendations directed to improve the current situation in the field of anti-corruption5.
In December 2006, the 6th OECD Monitoring Meeting in Paris examined Armenia’s progress in implementing the 2004 recommendations and adopted the country’s monitoring report. The report highlighted a number of positive aspects, where progress has been achieved, but also stated that many of the implemented measures are only initial steps and much remains to be done to reduce the burden of corruption in various spheres of public and business life6.
In October 2006, the National Assembly ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption7, which was signed by Armenia in May 2005. In November 2006, the European Union and Armenia ratified the Action Plan within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy, which includes the fight against corruption as a priority area8.
The RoA Electoral Code adopted in 1999 was modified 5 times until now.
The latest modification was made on December 22, 2006. As a result:
Mobile ballot boxes will be used for voting in in-patient medical institutions.
For the period starting from the date for the nation-wide elections to the adoption of the decision on vote count and tally, the requirement of quorum is removed, that is, if all opportunities aiming to ensure the participation of required number of commission members for convening the meeting are expired, regular meetings of the commission are considered lawful regardless of the number of the commission members present at the meeting. A decision is considered adopted, if the number of commission members voting for the decision exceeds the number of the commission members voting against it. In the case of a split vote, the vote by the Head of the Commission is considered decisive.
The provision that prohibited a person to become a community head for more than two consecutive terms was removed (Article 123.9).
In the course of 2006, no nation-wide elections and referenda were conducted in Armenia. Only local government elections were conducted, which resulted in the victory of the candidates that either were from the ruling parties or that enjoyed their support. The elections of the Ajapnyak District community Head in Yerevan were noteworthy. The main contenders were incumbent Artsrun Khachatryan, a member of Nig-Aparan Compatriots Union (Aghvan Hovsepyan, the General Prosecutor of Armenia, is a Chairperson of the Organization) and Arman Sahakyan (the son of Galust Sahakyan, the Head of the Republican Party caucus in the Parliament), member of the Republican Party's Political Council. The conflict between Khachatryans and Sahakyans families for the post of the Ajapnyak District community Head started in1999, when the parties clashed during the elections, with the use of fire-arms and with some people wounded. Conflict resurfaced also during these elections. This time the newly elected Political Council of the Republican Party (Serge Sargsyan, Chairman, RoA Defense Minister) made a decision not to support the member of their party A. Sahakyan. As a result of an agreement reached among the powers that be, neither Artsrun Khachatryan, nor Arman Sahakyan was nominated. Ruben Hovsepyan (the brother of Aghvan Hovsepyan, the General Prosecutor of Armenia), who was unfamiliar to the public, was nominated.
Although other candidates were also nominated, viz. Gagik Sargasyan, member of ARF-Dashnaktsutyun Party and Ishkhan Arshakyan, Democratic Path Party (Manuk Gasparyan, Head, deputy of Armenian National Assembly), the analysts contended that the outcome of the elections was predetermined in favor of Ruben Hovsepyan.. Ruben Hovsepyan won the elections held on October 29.
According to the information published in the press, voters were passive during the elections. Only those who were taken by mini-buses (for details see Haykakan Zhamanak, October 31, 2006) to polling stations participated in the elections.
The legal foundations for the formation of the judiciary in the Republic of Armenia were laid by the 1995 Armenian Constitution. According to that Constitution, a three-tier court system and the Constitutional Court operate in the Republic of Armenia. The Constitution declared the guarantees of the independence of courts.
However, the main guarantee of court independence, viz. the legislative foundations of independence from the executive branch of government, was not secured. The Constitution contained a provision to the effect that the Armenian President (who heads the executive branch of government) shall, upon the recommendation of the Justice Council or the Minister of Justice, appoint and dismiss judges and approve the of the judges’ professional adequacy and career advancement lists and shall authorize to arrest a judge and/or to bring the judge to administrative or criminal justice in court. Alongside the power to give recommendations to the Armenian President the Justice Council was also given power to take a disciplinary action against a sitting judge. The Justice Council was headed by the Armenian President, while Justice Minister and Prosecutor General served as Deputy Chairpersons of the Council. As a result, the judiciary is not actually independent from the executive branch of government. According to the Yerevan Office of the American Bar Association, the executive branch’s above-mentioned powers are an intimidation factor and a source of pressure on judges in their work, whereas selective prosecution of judges (disciplinary action, prosecution for alleged acts of corruption makes judges engage, directly or indirectly, in illegal activities… Soviet-era thinking that puts law-enforcement agencies (the procuracy, police) at the top of the legal system, followed by judges, and lastly defense advocates is still predominant (See Judicial Reform Index for Armenia. December 2004. ABA CEELI. Volume II. 2005, pp. 2, 30 and 33).
The constitutional amendments made through the 27 November 2005 referendum led in particular:
1. to the amendment of Article 94 to the effect that now it is the Constitution and the law but not the President that are the guarantors of judicial independence;
2. to the changes in the composition and powers of the Justice Council as a body that has an important role in the appointment of judges and in pre-term termination of their powers.
As a result of the constitutional amendments (Constitution, Article 94.1), the country’s President will not head the Justice Council. The Chairperson of the Court of Cassation shall preside over the sessions of the Justice Council without the voting power. The Justice Council will be composed of 9 judges elected for a 5-year period by a secret ballot by a general meeting of judges, of 2 legal scholars appointed by the President and of 2 legal scholars appointed by the Parliament.
Due to the constitutional amendments of 2005, the Justice Council (Article 95 of the Constitution) shall from now on be formed on its own and shall submit to the Armenian President the nominated candidates-judges and career advancement lists for approval, on the basis of which the appointments are made. (Prior to the constitutional amendments the Justice Council lists were made up on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice). It shall also give its opinion about the candidates nominated as judges for the Court of Appeal, Courts of First Instance and for specialized courts. Until the amendments, the power to nominate candidates for those positions was vested in the Minister of Justice. As a result of the amendments the Constitution does not specify the person or entity that shall make nominations. There is an opinion that the Minister of Justice will continue to nominate the candidates.
The amended Constitution retained the 1005 Constitution’s provision, according to which powers of the judges nominated for the Council of Justice shall be terminated or the nominated candidate shall be appointed a judge by the Armenian President. In other words, the President has the final say. It is not specified what the Council of Justice can do in case the President does not appoint their nominee as a judge.
Due to the 2005 constitutional amendments now anyone is entitled to take the matter to the Constitutional Court (Article 101 of the Constitution). Anyone is entitled to question the constitutionality of the provisions of the law that were applied to him by the final act of the court in a concrete case, provided all other means of legal defense have been exhausted. In the period from July to November 2006 fifteen individual petitions were submitted to the Constitutional Court. Concerning those, seven cases were reviewed. In two cases the contested provisions were recognized as contradicting the Constitution, hence null and void.
Conditions in penal institutions, tortures and inhuman treatment
As per Article 47 of the Law on holding the detained and arrested persons, a group of civic observers was set up on 14 May 2004 for the inspection of the conditions in the facilities of the penal institutions service of the RoA Ministry of Justice. According to the provisions of the Regulations for the operation of the group, the members of the group have an authority to visit unimpeded the penal institutions (PI) where prisoners are held and to familiarize themselves with various documents (including prisoners’ personal files and records by their consent, with the exception of secret documentation), with the situation in the facility and also to meet with prisoners. Upon the adoption in 2005 of the RoA Penal Code dealing with the procedure for keeping the convicts the powers of the group were extended to also include penal institutions assigned for keeping the convicts.
The observer group published its 2006 report based on the visits made in 2005. The Report describes the general situation of penal institutions, material and sanitary-hygienic conditions, communication with the outside world as well as the way the PI staff treats convicts. The Report pays special attention to Yerevan-Kentron PI, which is located in the building of the RoA National Security Service (NSS) and since the Soviet time has been a KGB detention facility.
In contrast to other PIs that were transferred since 2001 to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, Yerevan-Kentron PI was transferred into the jurisdiction of that Ministry only since January 2003. So far the group is not aware of any legislative or sub-legislative document, on the basis of which the arrested persons are held in Yerevan-Kentron PI. The observations made by the group give grounds to believe that the Yerevan-Kentron PI is used to hold individuals detained on criminal charges but with underlying political motives (for instance, the opposition representatives that took part in the rallies staged by the opposition in April 2004 and then detained in the aftermath of those rallies), foreign nationals as well as the accused in criminal cases that drew public attention.
In contrast to other PIs, the group’s visit to Yerevan-Kentron PI starts at the NSS checkpoint. In fact, an entry to the PI is equated with an entry to the NSS.
The communication with the outside world in Yerevan-Kentron PI does not meet the criteria set by law. The arrested persons are not allowed to have a wireless. They are denied an opportunity to receive newspapers and they can read only the newspapers selected by the head of the institution (Hayastani Hanrapetutiun, Hayots ashkhar and Azg dailies). The detainees are denied access to phones. From time to time some inmates can make use of the telephone in the office of the PI head at the latter’s discretion. Privacy of correspondence is not respected in the institution. The opening and perusal of letters are justified on the grounds of making sure there are no other things there.
In violation of the requirements set in Article 31.11 of the RoA Law on holding the detained and arrested persons, foreign nationals are not held separately from Armenian nationals in Yerevan-Kentron PI. Besides, foreign nationals are not explained their rights in the language that they understand.
As per Article 31.5 of the Law on holding the detained and arrested persons, current or former employees of courts, law enforcement, customs and tax agencies as well as military servicemen from the police troops or former military servicemen should be held separately from other inmates. However, on December 30, 2005, Mr. Vahé Grigorian, a former employee in the prosecutor’s office and currently an attorney, was without any explanation transferred to Yerevan-Kentron PI from Vardashen PI where former law enforcement agencies’ employees are held. He was made to a share a cell with other inmates that included a recidivist.
The Yerevan-Kentron PI inmates and their attorneys harbor strong suspicions that their conversations are eavesdropped on secretly. While this Report was being drawn up, Aravot daily published information on March 4, 2006, according to which Mr. A. Mirzoyan, a head of the Investigations Division of the RoA Prosecutor General’s Office, petitioned Mr. R. Apoyan, a head of the Technical Operations Division affiliated with the Armenian Government. He wanted Apoyan to instruct the relevant unit to video and audio tape the privately held meetings of the accused Zaven and Vladimir Mkrtchian (who are held in Yerevan-Kentron PI) with their attorneys and to inform the investigative bodies about the results.
Also registered was an instance when a person was unlawfully held in detention in Yerevan-Kentron PI. The term of the arrest of Ms Silva Asatrian, who was held there, expired at 5:45 p.m. on November 23, 2005. (On November 22, 2005, the first instance court rejected the petition to extend the term of the detention. The same day the court ruling was presented to Yerevan-Kentron PI at 11 a.m. On November 23, 2005, guarded by four PI employees, Ms Asatrian was taken to the Court of Appeals. The session of the court was postponed till November 24, 2005. However, Ms Asatrian was not released from custody. She was taken back to the PI and was unlawfully held in custody until November 24, 2005, when the Court of Appeals handed down a ruling that the term of the arrest should be extended.
The above-stated facts demonstrate that even though according to its legal status Yerevan-Kentron PI is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, in reality it operates as a detention facility of the National Security Service.
Since Yerevan-Kentron PI is located in the territory of the National Security Service and since it is technically impossible to separate the two institutions, the Report recommends terminating the operation of Yerevan-Kentron PI.
As regards the quality of food given to the PI inmates, with the exception of one or two institutions, it is unsatisfactory and conditions in kitchens are insanitary (Nubarashen PI and Gyumri PI). There were reports that in Goris PI and Nubarashen PI there were instances, when inmates were punished by not getting meals.
In all PIs the heal care provision is inadequate. PIs lack both necessary personnel and medical equipment and medication.
In 2006, the group documented instances of cruel treatment in Goris penal institution. Following the notifications, on May 6, 2006, Mr. Mikael Aramian, Mr. Avetik Ishkhanian, Mr. Andranik Harutiunian and Mr. Arman Danielian, members of the civic observers’ group for the control over the penal institutions and bodies of the RoA Ministry of Justice, paid an unplanned visit to Goris PI. The members of the group met with the heads of the institution and with several inmates both in the cells, where the arrested and convicted persons are held, and in punishment cells. During those meetings the group ascertained that on April 29, 2006 a special “action” was undertaken in Goris PI by a group of the interior troops servicemen that guard detainees during the transportation and by the Goris PI personnel. A search was conducted on a mass scale in all cells. During the search all the inmates were handcuffed and taken out of cells. The searchers made a mess of the cells, took the inmates’ personal belongings and clothes to the PI yard and burned them. The prisoners’ documents, their family members’ pictures, clothes, underwear, shaving things and other things for personal use were among the personal belongings. When the inmates were brought back to cells, they found out that their cigarettes were gone, while tea, coffee and granulated sugar were spilt on the floor. During the mass search a wireless that belongs to one of the inmates was smashed in one of the cells. The search was for the most part accompanied by violence. As a result of the conversations the group contends that in the course of the “action” at least 5 inmates were subjected to cruel beating. Those inmates were handcuffed, while they were beaten. According to the prisoners, 7 to 10 persons took part in beatings. They used rubber batons and feet to beat the inmates and also used electroshock. Three inmates told the group that they had lost consciousness as a result of beating. At the time of the group’s visit the traces of the beating still remained in various parts of their bodies (backs, feet and faces), while their wrists bore traces of handcuffs. The inmates subjected to beating did not receive medical assistance, whereas their injuries were not registered in their medical files.
Three of the inmates that had been subjected to beating were in a punishment cell at the time of the group’s visit. They had gone on a hunger strike protesting against violence and degrading treatment that they had been subjected to. According to the head of the institution, the “action” was caused by the argument that convict Arthur Ayvazian and an investigator from the military prosecutor’s office got into in the territory of Goris PI on April 26. The PI head reported the incident to the Penal Institutions Division. As a result, on April 29, a group of the RoA interior troops servicemen that guard detainees during the transportation arrived in Goris PI. It was they that carried out the above-mentioned “action” together with the Goris PI personnel.
Even prior to April 29 Sargis Harutiunian, who was in the punishment cell at the time of the visit, had been sent to that cell for five days as a punishment for violating the regulations. However, the administration of punishment was postponed as recommended by a doctor because of health-related problems. On May 4 Harutiunian underwent sonography, the results of which indicated that he could be taken to a punishment cell. According to his statement, on May 4 he swallowed a nail and an end part of an aluminum tablespoon in protest. Nevertheless, by the time of the groups’ visit he had not been X-rayed. The other two prisoners held in the punishment cell pointed out that for the first three days in the punishment cell their beds had not been unfolded and they had not been given the bedding. They had also been denied a walk in the yard.
Based on Article 47 of the Law on holding the detained and arrested persons the 14 January 2005 Order A1-N issued by the Chief of the RoA Police established the procedure for the operation of the group of civic observers in the RoA Police system’s penal institutions for holding the detainees (PIDs). A group of civic observers was set up on March 10, 2006 for the inspection of the conditions in the PIDs. The group has powers to visit only PIDs. In other words, it is denied the opportunity to visit police departments. However, in reality it is in police departments that tortures are practiced. Without properly registering the persons forcibly brought to the departments and without stating those persons’ status, the police holds those persons in the police departments, where beating and cruel treatment are applied. For the most part the victims of that violence do not go public; sometimes they do not even tell what happened in reality.
About 60 percent of the prisoners announced that they had been beaten at the time of detention or in police departments. However, the injuries are either not recorded at all in the registration logs of the detention facilities or are recorded only superficially.
On April 20, Armen Ghambarian was detained on suspicion of selling drugs and was taken to the National Police-affiliated Department for the Struggle against Organized Crime. He was beaten there so severely that his spleen was broken and nine days later was removed through surgery. The report of the forensic medical examination conducted with a 10-day delay recorded bodily injuries, viz. a black eye, bruises in various parts of the body, a damaged shoulder blade, abrasions on legs, a torn spleen and internal hemorrhage. The prosecutor’s office disregarded those injuries and initiated criminal proceedings against him. Ghambarian faces charges that may lead to a 7-15-year imprisonment.
In a hospital for convicts Ghambarian told the Ditord/Observer reporter, that after he had been brutally beaten for a whole day in a police station he was forced to “confess” that the drugs placed in front of him by the policemen were his and that he was engaged in selling drugs. Ghambarian says that it was because of strong fear that during a medical examination in Nubarashen detention facility he said that he had fallen and injured himself. Only on May 10, while already in hospital, Ghambarian signs a contract with a defense attorney and writes a statement to the Yerevan prosecutor’s Office that he had been beaten.
Sargis Mnatsakanian, Deputy Prosecutor of Erebuni district, makes a decision to deny a request of opening a criminal case on the grounds that Ghambarian received injuries because of a fall.
Mnatsakanian interrogated Ghambarian in Nubarashen penitentiary without the defense attorney’s presence and, according to Ghambarian, intimidated him and threatening him that his family would be targeted forced him to say that he had fallen.
Interpersonal relationship breaching the charter of army and the impunity of army officers are continued in RoA armed forces. As a consequence, number of death casualties in army reaches dozens each year..
In accordance with the principles spelled out in the Chapter VII of the RoA National Security Strategy Concept, as well as based on paragraph 1.6 of the Individual Action Plan between NATO and RoA, it is foreseen to carry out civil oversight in the RoA armed forces. However those provisions do not function yet and army is mainly closed for the public.
State authorities provide contradictory data on the death casualties in the army. According to the response of the RoA Foreign Ministry to the Report of the Human Rights Watch in 2005, there were 14 death casualties in the army, according to the Prosecutor's Office - 28, according to RoA Ministry of Defense - 89.
Based on the statement of Serge Sargsyan, RoA Minister of Defense on January 19, 2007, in 2005 there were 47 death casualties and in 2006 -33.
The trial of the criminal case of military servants (solders) Razmik Sargasyan, Arayik Zalyan and Musa Serobyan, were being accused in killing of military servants (solders) Hovsep Mkrtumyan and Roman Yeghiazaryan, was unprecedented. The Appeal Court (the court of second instance) has condemned 3 defendants to life sentence (Please find details in Ditord/Observer magazine 4(34) 2006., pages 11-15). The Cassation Court (the court of third instance) invalidated the decision of Appeal Court by December 22, 2006 decision, abolished precautionary measure and sent the case for additional preliminary investigation.
This case obtained a large public salience in Armenia and international response. Human rights organization Human Rights Watch and International Helsinki Federation applied to the Armenian authorities considering proceedings conducted by the courts of the first and second instances unfair.
Freedom of expression, Free Media and Information
Freedom of expression in Armenia is encroached to a progressively greater extent. Since 2002, when A1+ TV Company was taken off the air, all TV Companies have lost their independence and are to a differing extent under the Government’s control, while covert censorship is practiced.
On May 25 the National Commission on Television and Radio announced the results for radio broadcast licensing competitions of December 27, 2005 for two vacant FMs in Yerevan - 90.3 and 90.7 MHz. By the voting of the National Commission members, the “A1+” TV company founder, “Meltex” LLC did not gain the right to broadcast on these frequencies.
Thus, since being deprived of air in April 2002 and to this day “A1+” took part in all broadcast licensing competitions for TV /8/ and in for radio /4/ (except the Yerevan competitions announced in 2005, because it offered licenses for exclusively re-broadcasting of already existing channels and not an access to the audience with their own programs). “A1+” “lost” all competitions.
Article 17 of the RoA Law on TV and Radio based on which bodies of public administration or local government and political parties cannot be founders of private TV companies, is breached since 3 TV stations, which are registered as private TV companies (“Yerkir Media” belongs to ARF-Dashnaktsutyun party, “Kentron” TV belongs to Bargavatch Hayastan/Prosperous Armenia party, and ALM belongs to People’s Party. Some Regional TV stations either belong to or are controlled by Regional Governors.
In 2006, too, there were several instances of journalists being targeted by thugs or harassed with criminal prosecution. As a rule, the perpetrators of violence against journalists are not discovered by law-enforcement agencies and are not punished.
On January 30 in Yerevan downtown sports reporter of “Haikakan Zhamanak” daily David Jalalian was assaulted. An unknown male assailant hit the journalist with a knife in the abdomen. Due to the clothes the wound turned to be light and not dangerous for life. Encountering the resistance of David Jalalian, the perpetrator disappeared from the scene. David Jalalian himself and Editor-in-Chief of “Haikakan Zhamanak” Nikol Pashinian could not explain the reason, however, they thought it might be related to professional activities of the journalist.
In the early morning of May 16 in Vanadzor the car owned by the Executive Director of “Lori” TV company Narineh Avetisian was stoned. The glasses of the car were broken. After a talk show dealing with the problems of Vanadzor residents, living in the temporary dwellings in one of the city areas, in particular, their eviction process and the sale of the land lots at low prices and with no auctioning, she was going out into the street and she found the car damaged. The two other cars standing by were left intact. On February 23 she was insulted by the owner of two routes of the city microbuses. The discontent of the entrepreneur was raised by the persistence of the TV company to raise on its air the issue of ungrounded fare raises in the city transport. According to Narineh Avetisian, the entrepreneur was summoned to the police for a confrontation and, as far as she knows, this is how the investigation ended.
In “Syunyats Yerkir” (Kapan, Syunik region) newspaper on June 15, 2006 was published article “Syunik Energy System Is Corrupt, If Not Fully Corrupt”. On June 21, as the statement of the editorial staff tells, the office was visited by the heads of “Tatev” branch of “Electric Networks of Armenia” CJSC, who were offered to publish their response or objections to this article. However, the statement stresses, this offer did not satisfy the management of the regional electrical network, and they orders to cut off the power supply of the “Syunyats Yerkir” office. As a result, the work of the editorial staff was suspended.
On July 10 “Hetq” online newspaper (the weekly publication of “Investigative Journalists” NGO) reported that throughout the past week “Hetq” received e-mail messages with threats and abuse to the address of “Investigative Journalists”: “The messages warned against writing any more articles about Gagik Tsarukian (RA National Assembly deputy, head of “Multi Group” concern - Ed. note), making threats if disobeyed.” On July 7, the weekly tells, the Chairman of “Investigative Journalists” and the Chief Editor of “Hetq” Edik Baghdasarian addressed the Head of the RA National Security Service Gorik Hakobian with a request to disclose and punish the author of the messages, as the law provides. On July 12 the National Security Service informed him that the messages were sent out from Irwin, Los Angeles suburb. However, further investigation is impossible as there is no appropriate intergovernmental agreement between USA and Armenia. According to Edik Baghdasarian, the investigation that his organization undertook yielded similar data. For this reason, not expecting an answer from NSS, on July 11 he addressed the US Embassy in Armenia with a request to assist the search of the e-mail author.
On July 12 the freelance correspondent of “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” and “Aravot” newspapers Gagik Shamshian, residing in Nubarashen, was harassed by the relatives and subordinates of Nubarashen head Mher Hovhannisian with regard to an article, published on July 11 in “Chorrord Ishkhanutiun” (the piece told, in particular, about two relatives of the Nubarashen head, charged with robbery at a Yerevan bank). The journalist was threatened, insulted, his personal belongings were taken away. The harassment continued for days to come: on July 13 the power supply was cut off at the flat of the journalist and the phone line was disconnected, on July 18 several dozens of Nubarashen resident held a “protest action” against Gagik Shamshian. Gagik Shamshian appealed to Erebuni Department of the RA Police. The Prosecutor's Office of Erebuni and Nubarashen communities of Yerevan instituted criminal proceedings on Article 164 (“Impeding the Legitimate Professional Activities of Journalist”), part 1 of Article 176 (“Robbery”) and part 3 of Article 258 (“Public Disorder”) of the RA Criminal Code. On August 3 the Erebuni Investigation Division of the Chief Investigation Department of the RA Police instituted criminal proceedings against Gagik Shamshian himself. The journalist is charged with Part 1 of Article 136 (“Insult”), Parts 1 and 2 of Article 178 (“Cheating”) and Part 1 of Article 182 “Extortion” of the RA Criminal Code.
In the morning of September 6 Editor of “Iravunk” newspaper Hovhannes Galajian was attacked as he was leaving home: two young men with their heads shaved assaulted the journalist, threw him on the ground and started kicking. Noticing that they were attracting the attention of the passers-by, the attackers left off. Right after the incident the journalist reported it to the Police Division of Arabkir community of Yerevan. As the medical examination showed, Hovhannes Galajian received slight bodily injuries. The Police Division of Arabkir community instituted criminal proceedings as per the Article 118 of the RA Criminal Code (“Beating”).
On January 12 the RA Court of Appeals completed the hearing on the case of the Chief Editor of “Zhamanak-Yerevan” daily Arman Babajanian, who was sentenced on September 8, 2006 by the court of primary jurisdiction of Center and Nork-Marash communities of Yerevan to four years’ imprisonment. The Chief Editor was convicted for document fraud to evade military service. The hearings on the case started with the court of secondary jurisdiction on October 24. Besides, on October 16 Arman Babajanian addressed the military commissariat of Shengavit community of Yerevan asking for a military service exemption, basing on the RA Law “On Citizens Who Have Not Taken Mandatory Military Service with Procedural Violations”, i.e., after a certain amount is paid (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, November 10-16, 2006).
At the session of January 12 the Court of Appeals somewhat mitigated the sentence of Arman Babajanian, reducing it to 3.5 years' imprisonment. The ruling was made in the absence of the defendant’s attorneys. Besides, the court declined the motion of Arman Babajanian to give him time to prepare the last word. Refusal was also made on the previous motion of the journalist’s attorneys to reschedule the session, as the response of the special interdepartmental commission, headed by the RA Minister of Defense and considering the appeals of citizens who have not taken mandatory military service with procedural violations, had not been received yet.
As the attorney of Arman Babajanian Zaruhi Postanjian told YPC, the attorneys of the “Zhamanak-Yerevan” head intend to challenge the sentence with the RA Court of Cassation. At the same time, according to Zaruhi Postanjian, a suit is being prepared against the actions of the interdepartmental commission mentioned above. The lawyers noted that during the December 27, 2006 session of the commission it was resolved to address the RA General Prosecutor’s Office for a clarification whether the respective law can be applied in the case of Arman Babajanian. However, the attorneys were not notified of either the response of the General Prosecutor’s Office to the inquiry, or of the final resolution of the commission itself. Actually, Zaruhi Postanjian added, during the years of its existence the commission had made positive verdicts on over 2,000 appeals, and a possible denial to Arman Babajanian may be qualified as discrimination.
Recently Armineh Ohanian, who also collaborates with “Zhamanak-Yerevan”, was dismissed from the position of press-secretary of the RA Court of Appeals for Civil Cases. “I was offered a choice - either publications, or the position of press-secretary. I chose the former”, Armine Ohanian told “Aravot” daily (July 1, 2006). “Aravot”, on its behalf, made a supposition that the “last straw” was the article of the journalist about Arman Babajanian.
Freedom of Association
On July 3, 2002 the RoA Law on Political Parties was passed. As per Article 5 of the Law, “The Parties shall be required to have at least 200 members and separate chapters in at least one-third of the RoA regions, including Yerevan.” The amendments made to the Law on January 15, 2005 made those provisions tougher. Now the law states that “within 6 months upon the State registration the political party shall be required to have at least 2,000 members, with at least 100 members in each region of the Republic of Armenia and its chapters in all regions of the Republic of Armenia, including the city of Yerevan and shall notify the authorized State body in writing about that.” The courts of general jurisdiction disbanded 49 political parties on the grounds that the latter did not comply with the said requirement (of Article 33.3). Those political parties that submitted the lists required by law were re-registered by the Ministry of Justice. It is worth mentioning that there is no mechanism for verifying the lists.
On the whole, the Law on Political Parties does not in fact impede the political parties’ registration and operation. However, in reality equal conditions are not ensured in Armenia to political parties both during the elections and in the pre-election period. Equal opportunities to the use of media, especially of electronic media, as well as freedom of rallies, free operation of their offices and opportunities for the raising of funds are not secured for political parties.
On March 4, 2006 the Zharangootiun/Heritage party was evicted without any legal grounds from its central office (that the party leased until 2007 from the Paronian State musical comedy theater). The board members and office staff of the Zharangootiun/Heritage party are denied an opportunity to make use of the documents and the party seal that are located in the locked office. All the means of legal redress that are outlined by law and that the party resorted to (police, prosecutor’s office and first, second and third instance courts) yielded no results. On March 8, four days after the central office of the Zharangootiun/Heritage party had been shut down, unknown persons accessed the office’s main computer that contained information about the party, about the numerical strength of its membership and about its operation. After submitting the computer to expert examination, the experts from the RoA National Academy of Sciences’ National Bureau of Expert Examination confirmed that on that night computer was indeed turned on for 22-24 minutes. A foreign monitor and a memory device were connected to it. The RoA police and the RoA prosecutor’s Office refused to conduct an appropriate investigation on the grounds of the absence of the corpus delicti.
The Zharangootiun/Heritage party members are throughout the country subjected to persecution, detentions and threats to lose jobs. The party’s nameplates disappeared from the offices of the party’s territorial chapters in Aparan, Yeghvard, Sissian, Yeghegnadzor and Kapan.
Zharangootiun/Heritage party requested the Nooshikian Company to lease a street billboard. The request was not turned down, as, according to the Company, it had 57 available billboards at the moment. However, several days later told the party’s representative that there was not a single available billboard. The same happened when the party turned to the Zebra Company.
The ruling political parties use their administrative levers to increase their membership. They confront citizens with a prospect of losing their jobs unless they enroll in those parties. The process is particularly widespread in those regions, local governments, educational and health care institutions as well as in private enterprises that are controlled by a given political party.
Businessmen not only give funding to the ruling political parties but also enroll as their members. Thus, when the Armenian Defense Minister Mr. S. Sargsyan became a member of the Republican Party a large number of businessmen also joined the party. Orinats yerkir/The rule-of-law country (RLC) political party got into the parliament all by itself in the 2003 elections but then formed a ruling coalition with two other political parties (Republican Party and ARF-Dashnaktsutiun party). When in summer of 2006 it left the coalition, the businessmen that had got into the Parliament on the (RLC) political party’s ticket immediately left the party and set a Businessman caucus in the Parliament. Later on some of the MPs from that caucus became members of the Republican Party.
After leaving the ruling coalition RLC has encountered numerous obstacles. The RLC example is a manifestation of unequal competition in the Republic of Armenia between pro-government and opposition political parties.
According to information provided by the Orinats yerkir/The rule-of-law country, during the RLC visits to regions local TV stations videotape the meetings held by RLC with local residents but never broadcast them in local news. After each meeting local TV stations aired a documentary that discredits the RLC party Chairperson Mr. Arthur Baghdassarian and that had been specially commissioned. Such materials were broadcast by local TV stations in Vanadzor, Gyumri, Hrazdan, Sevan and Gavar.
On November 6, 2006 Mr. Mher Shahgeldian, the RLC Deputy Chairperson, on behalf of the party submitted petitioned the RoA Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepian to identify those who commissioned the documentary and its broadcasting.
Mr. Ashot Khandanian, the CEO of Kyavar TV Company, rejected our request to provide an explanation concerning the issue.
In October 2006 Mig TV Company in Vanadzor was working on an interview with Arthur Baghdassarian. However, the interview was never broadcast. According to Mr. Samvel Harutiunian, the CEO of Mig TV Company, A. Baghdassarian harshly criticized the Regional Governor of Lori. Mr. Harutiunian’s suggestion to cut out some parts of those criticisms was rejected; therefore the interview was not broadcast. M. Harutiunian expressed concern that had the interview been broadcast in its original form, he could have been fined 500,000 AMD or deprived of the license.
Since late 2005 TV Companies are prohibited to provide information about the Zharangootiun/Heritage party and its leader Mr. Raffi Hovhannissian. Instead, the News program of the Public TV spread misinformation about Ms Armineh Hovhannissian. It was contended that a charity that she heads provides funding to her husband’s political party. A pro-government newspaper accused Raffi Hovhannissian of being a US spy but furnished no proofs. The media outlets controlled by the powers that be refused to publish the refutations. Ms Armineh Hovhannissian managed to give a public response only through Radio Liberty.
Peaceful Assemblies, Rallies
Even though 2006 was not a particularly active year politically and the opposition did not stage mass events, nevertheless the opposition’s attempts to conduct meetings in auditoriums were frequently obstructed by refusals to provide auditoriums, by firing persons that supported the meetings of the political parties and by police persecution of the organizers.
Particularly obstructed were the activities of Zharangootiun/Heritage and Orinats yerkir/The rule-of-law country (RLC) political parties that sought to take a more active stance among the opposition parties.
On May 20, 2006 the party office employee Levon Margarian was forcibly taken to the police station for organizing a meeting of the Zharangootiun party with local residents in Armavir.
Mayor of Yeghegnadzor Sirak Babayan prohibited the rally planned for May 6, 2006. The party’s nameplates disappeared from the offices of the party’s chapters.
The Armenian National Academy of Sciences refused to provide an auditorium to the Zharangootiun party for conducting a congress. The directorate of Hoktember movie theater in Gyumri did not provide the hall to the party for holding a meeting.
The requests by the National Civic Initiative non-governmental organization (Chairperson Raffi Hovhannissian) to provide auditorium in the G. Sundukian national theater as well as in the American University of Armenia and in K. Demirchian Sports & Concert Complex were also denied.
Also declined was the request to provide the Government’s meeting hall to the Nor zhamanakner/New Times political party for conducting a conference in March or April 2006.
After Orinats yerkir/The rule-of-law country (RLC) political party left the ruling coalition it started to come across the obstructions everywhere. The request to provide an auditorium in Hayastan movie theater for conducting a meeting was turned down. In Vanadzor Mr. Albert Zhamharian, director of H. Abelian State theater, was dismissed after he provided the premises to the RLC on September 2, 2006.
School principals, particularly in Yerevan, do not provide premises to the RLC explaining that decision by fear of losing their jobs.
On December 7, 2006, in front of the President’s palace a 67-year-old ethnic Yezidi woman Ms Gulizar Avdalian poured gasoline on herself and on her three grandchildren in protest against an unfair investigation of the criminal case of the murder of her son Mr. Kyaram Avdalian. According to the Yezidi community, the man was beaten to death by Lchashen village head and his friends. However, a totally different person was arrested since he had confessed to committing the crime. An argument between Yezidis and the village head broke out over a pasture. For decades in summertime Yezidis took their flocks of sheep to pastures in mountains to graze. However, in recent years local residents do not let Yezidis to make use of some of those pasturelands.
Freedom of conscience; Alternative Service
19 Jehovah’s Witnesses that refused from the alternative service in 2005 (the Armenian law instituted alternative labor service but not the alternative civil service) because it was of a military nature and was supervised by Military Police. If they fell ill, the persons in the alternative service were to get medical treatment in a military hospital.
Having spent about 8 months in prison on charges of desertion and/or of leaving the duty station without official leave, they were released by courts’ rulings. 15 of them had been earlier given prison sentences by first instance courts. All of them were released after prosecutors petitioned the courts to send their cases back for additional investigation since the body of preliminary investigation had not done an impartial and comprehensive investigation. After they had been released, the prosecutor’s office closed their cases. The Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed against their sentences demanding that they be given an acquittal but the Court of Cassation sustained the rulings. The Law on alternative service that took effect in 2004 is in fact ineffective at presence since no one wishes to get into that service. Thus, Armenia’s obligations regarding the introduction of alternative service assumed upon its accession to the Council of Europe are not fulfilled. Currently 54 Jehovah’s Witnesses are in prison for conscientious objection.
Intolerance against religious minorities has grown in the society. This trend is believed to be caused by a media campaign against them. (For instance, in an article published by Azg daily a cleric from the Armenian Apostolic Church says that Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals and other “destructive” sects are like AIDS “that in this case destroy person’s intellectual faculties.” The daily’s editor-in-chief Avetikian wrote on another occasion that his newspaper criticizes and will criticize religious minorities because of their aggressiveness and of their preaching that leads people astray.)
Jehovah’s Witnesses report that in 2006 five of their coreligionists were beaten in the streets. On August 21, priest Mr. Ashot Poghossian beat Jehovah’s Witnesses Ms Lena Karapetian and Ms Zoya Tamarian in the street in Shengavit community. Ms Tamarian’s hand sustained two fractures. The police instituted criminal proceedings; however, then it closed it on the grounds that the priest regretted his action. Priest Poghossian testified that he had beaten women because they are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Says Jehovah’s Witness Levon Margarian, “Recently they started to commit violent acts against us. There have been numerous incidents that we have not recorded. It can be seen that TV programs and newspapers play an important role in that. People are saying, ‘The TV said this or that about you’ and they become hostile towards us.”
The ownership right
By its 18 April 2006 ruling the Constitutional Court recognized all Legal Acts concerning the Northern Avenue, including Government Decree 1151 (that specifies the areas alienated from the owners), Article 218 of the Civil Code (taking a land plot for the needs of the State or community) and Articles 104, 106 and 108 of the Land Code (that, too, deal with legal relations concerning the taking of a land plot and real property) as contravening the RoA Constitution.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling should, in fact, have brought about two results, viz. a law regulating the construction work in the city center should have been adopted and the aggrieved party should have been given an opportunity to take the matter to court due to “new circumstances” and to restore their violated rights. However, concerning the former, the ruling by the Constitutional Court was implemented in an extremely flawed manner, while concerning the latter, it was not implemented at all.
All the suits submitted by the residents were turned down by courts. The rights of the city center’s several hundred residents that had been deprived of their property through unconstitutional means were never restored. The residents merely got an opportunity to get back the 10 percent income tax that had been imposed on the forced compensation that they had received for their property. The evictions of the city center residents from their homes and forcible alienation of property went on even after the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
Immediately after October 1 (as to the Constitutional Court ruling, from October 1 on, the said legal Acts were to become null and void), the Government and the oligarchs engaged in construction spared no efforts to get the law adopted in the version most beneficial for them. The law, which is titled the Law on alienation of property for public and State needs, should have been adopted long before the construction of buildings started in the city center. That was the requirement stated by the then Constitution. The law was to have regulated all the processes of alienation of people’s land plots and apartments and of the construction in the city center.
However, even as regards the protection of rights of those residents whose land plots will be taken in the near future, what happened in fact was that an attempt was made to legalize through the law the processes of seizure of others’ property. The drafters and pushers of the law were guided exclusively by the developers’ interests. Many experts voice a negative opinion about the draft Law.
The Law should have given a definitive answer to a number of questions. To begin with, the RoA Constitution says that the limitation of person’s right is possible only in “exceptional cases”, when there is a necessity of serving such interests of the society and of the State that can be considered as overriding as regards the human right that is seen as a supreme value. Therefore, first of all, a clear definition should have been given of what constitutes the said “exceptional” case, under which the fulfillment of the society’s and State’s needs would be seen as prevailing over the ownership right, which is protected by the RoA Constitution.
The main flaw of the Law is that it does not state clearly what the State and society’s need is. Article 4, which is titled The determination of the exceptional, i.e. prevailing public interest, lists the objectives that that interest can pursue. That list can be applied to virtually everything. Using that list, the powers that be will be in a position to take away land and premises from citizen (See Ditord/Observer, 2006, # 6).
The Report has been prepared by Helsinki Committee of Armenia:
Mr. Avetk Ishkhanyan
Ms.Lilit Simonyan, Mr. Vahan Ishkhanyan, and Ms Gayane Mkrtchyan
Section on Corruption by Center for Regional Development /Transparency International Armenia